Vergara discusses his experience implementing a wide range of technologies for the legal department at Scotiabank Chile and shares his thoughts on disruptive technology.
I would say that our legal team is more advanced than other legal teams because the whole bank is making efforts in the area of technology. There are other financial institutions and other companies in other areas that are behind us - sometimes in a very dramatic way - because they don't, in their businesses, feel that there is an urgency in making the whole business digital. So, obviously, we have an advantage in that area. We also have an advantage because we are an international company. But, on the other hand, sometimes small companies and new companies have an advantage because they start with digital. For us, we are advanced, but sometimes you have to change the habits of people who have several years in the industry - that they have to now learn how to become digital. That's a difficult issue. Again, we are better in comparison with a lot of other legal teams, but I would say that smaller companies and start-up companies - their legal teams are probably more advanced than us.
Mainly, we use external providers that develop commercial products for the legal industry in Chile. We have different systems: one in the dispute resolution area called Case Tracking, to review the status of your case in the courts. It's software that is based on cloud computing technology. That provides you with several functionalities that allow you to track and manage your cases and prepare reports, and so on and so forth. It's a very friendly software, and it's available for any company or any lawyer and in other Latin American countries, and it's been very useful for us.
I would say that the challenge is to increase the use of technology. It's a growing area and there is a big focus on making the whole bank in the legal area digital. So that's the goal, and that's the big challenge but, on the other hand, the problem is that you have to invest a lot of time, a lot of money, and especially education in your internal and external stakeholders. So, it's very challenging, because the world is urging banks, especially in legal areas, to make a big bet on technology and digital tools but, on the other hand, you don't have the proper resource to do so. Also, the 'business as usual' on a daily basis sometimes makes it harder to make that change. I would say we are trying to increase the time and the money that we are spending on digitalisation, but it is difficult to make a schedule or to develop a very precise and clear plan to do so.
IT is often more focused on the commercial side, so it's difficult in any business to get attention to the legal area. I would say everyone is very keen on improving their digital relationship with the clients, and let's say the back office of any business is out of their priorities. So, I would say that IT areas are 90% focused on the digitalisation of the relationship with the clients.
I would say there are three main issues where technology is dramatically changing the legal profession.
In first place, the technology is allowing legal areas to do business with less support staff. Right now, you need so many paralegals or so many assistants, so lawyers are increasingly doing, with the support of technology, tasks that in the past would require non-lawyer assistants. That's the first dramatic change, because it's making the legal teams - in some cases - all lawyers, and they don't need too much support from other areas. That probably will increase in the future, and especially general lawyers will very much do everything by themselves. That's important.
In second place, I would say that the technology is making it so that the legal profession is losing the human touch in a way that, right now, you can negotiate and close a big deal without meeting the other party in person. That's a dramatic change, because it allows you to work remotely, even in complex fields. The challenge is that by losing the personal touch, it will hurt the lawyers in their capacity to develop negotiation tactics and so forth. You save cost in matters like travel and meetings, but on the other hand, you will lose some useful tools that only the experience of personal relationships provides to lawyers.
In third place, I would say the big question is: how will AI shape the legal profession? Right now many people are talking about AI, but nobody knows for sure how it will work in the legal profession. That's an open question, and it may imply that some legal teams will invest a lot of money in AI but at the end it will prove useless. On the other hand, some legal teams will find that AI is useful in some areas: for example, smart contracts. In service industries, in which you have a massive contract that you have to sign every day with clients, artificial intelligence in smart contracts could be a useful tool, but again, probably an open question. There could be an important change regarding managing caseloads and case precedents in order to improve your litigation skills but, so far, I haven't seen any programme that provides you with an edge without an important expense of money.
The innovation ecosystem in Chile is growing, and I would say there are some forces that have driven that growth. Firstly, Chile has been experiencing an economic growth over the last 30 years, which allows us to buy and develop technology. The Chilean economy is also a very open economy, which allows you to look for external experience and allows you to buy and import any solution off any country, without any problem. Also, since we are an open economy, it also provides you an incentive for Chilean companies to expose themselves to other areas. And lastly, since 2008, the Chilean government has been investing big in improving the tech sector – providing incentives to invest public money in the development of new technologies here, and that has been an important governmental push.